For most people, browsing the Internet is a painless activity, but if you have dyslexia, it can throw all sorts of challenges your way. In this article we’ll be sharing a number of tips and tools you can use to make your time online that bit easier.
As someone with dyslexia, you’ve probably already figured out that zooming into web pages helps to make the text easier to read. The same goes for turning to video sites like YouTube or Vimeo, or listening to podcasts instead of reading long articles.
But there are a lot of other things you can do, too.
Most of the recommendations below are in the form of web browser extensions that you can download (usually) for free. The best ones are available on Google Chrome. So if you don’t use Google Chrome as your main web browser already, you should start. Though if you don’t want to switch browsers, we have included other options.
Using a Dyslexic-Friendly Font
There are a variety of fonts that have been designed specifically for people with dyslexia, with the most common being OpenDyslexic. This font makes the bottom of letters look “heavier”, so you can more easily tell which is the top, and which is the bottom. The unique shape to each letter also helps to stop your brain from flipping letters around in your mind.
You can download this font for free and install it in your browser or mobile devices. If you want to change the font on your phone, including your messages and emails, to something more readable, this is a great option. You can find step-by-step instructions on how to install the font here.
But if you want to simply change the font on the web pages you are visiting, there is a simpler option — the OpenDyslexic browser extension, available on Chrome, and also Firefox [No Longer Available].
Once installed, the extension changes the text on any web page you visit to this dyslexic-friendly font while changing the formatting of the pages to make them easier to read. Try it now, and you should find reading the text on this page a lot easier.
Note of interest: Amazon Kindle has also refreshed the ebook reader with the OpenDyslexic font option to make it easier for those with reading difficulties.
Changing Text to Speech
If you prefer listening instead of reading, there are a lot of text to speech options that can read a web page to you out loud. Unfortunately, most of the options we tested sounded completely robotic, but we did find one that was pretty impressive.
SpeakIt! is a Google Chrome extension that will read to you any text that you select with your cursor. Simply highlight the text, then click the icon to listen to the content. You can pause the audio any time.
If you use Firefox, the Text to Voice add-on is a similar option, with excellent reviews.
Or, if you’d rather not install an extension, you can copy and paste any text you want to be read to you into the text box on the NaturalReaders website. This is the perfect option if you want to have a PDF or Word document read to you.
Reading Different Text Formats on Your Phone
We just mentioned using NaturalReaders as a text to speech option for a few different formats on your computer, but what if you want a similar function on your phone or tablet?
The most popular choice here is Voice Dream Reader (iOS, Android, $9.99). This is a mobile application that can turn a massive array of file types into speech. These include text files, web pages, articles saved to Instapaper, books downloaded from Project Gutenberg or Bookshare, as well as ePub files. This app may be on the expensive side, but in this case, you really do get what you pay for.
The app comes with 36 voices, and 8 fonts installed (including OpenDyslexic which we mentioned earlier), but you can purchase others for a small fee. You can also change the reading speed, and have the app highlight words as they are being read.
If you want a free option, iOS has a feature called VoiceOver and Android has something called TalkBack. These both have less features than Voice Dream Reader (though you can add more features to Apple’s VoiceOver), but come pre-installed on your device.
To enable this feature in iOS or Android, go to Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver/TalkBack then select the options you want, and activate the feature. From then on, any element on your phone that you press-and-hold will be read out loud to you.
Changing Background Colors
Sometimes, you may feel that it’s not the font that is making reading difficult, but the background color of the page you are reading. Don’t worry, this is easily fixed.
The easiest option here is to install CareYourEyes (Chrome) or ColorThatSite (Firefox). Both of these extensions easily allow you to change the background color of any website to whatever color you want. This means you don’t need to struggle to read on bright white backgrounds.
If you’re someone who likes to save articles to read later, both Instapaper (with all its amazing features) and Readability allow you to change the background color within the app. This means you’ll be able to read text more easily not just on the web, but also within these read-later mobile apps, too.
Introducing Color to Text
I was only recently introduced to this approach that I hear can work well, so it’s definitely worth a try. BeeLine Reader can be used as a Chrome extension, within your browser, or as desktop version (which you can even use to read Kindle books).
Basically, the start and end of each sentence on any website (if you install the Chrome extension) or on any text (if you copy and paste into the browser version), can be displayed in a variety of color gradients that guide your eyes, and reduce eyestrain.
Improving Spelling and Grammar
Grammarly (Chrome, Safari, Firefox) is a powerful, free spelling and grammar checking browser extension. As you type an email, Facebook update, or blog post, the extension will highlight words or sentences that are incorrect. Just hover over those highlights to find the correct suggestion.
The proofreading extension picks up a wide range of mistakes that Microsoft Word overlooks, while also taking into account the context of your sentences. This leads the company claiming that Grammarly is the “world’s most accurate grammar checker”. Having used this extension for a while, I can definitely say it’s the best grammar checker I’ve ever used.
But Chrome does have other spelling and grammar checking choices, too.
Do You Think These Tools Could Help You?
None of these tools will solve every problem that someone with dyslexia will come across as they browse the Internet. But they can definitely help to make the whole experience somewhat easier.
Let us remember that dyslexia is a language based disorder and not a learning one. If you don’t have dyslexia, Victor Widell’s website helps you understand what the specific reading difficulty is like.
As these famous names prove, it can be overcome.
And this list is by no means exhaustive. So, if you have any other recommendations for tools and tips you have found useful, please share them in the comments so other readers can use them too.